1940 To Today: What’s Changed?

I was having lunch with my Mom today, and I was telling her rather enthusiastically about my Polynomials Flipped Unit project that I finally can call “Done… for Now.” I was explaining to her about the assessment portion the project, then I got into a rant about how we standardize schooling from the common exams right down to being on the same page of questions each day within the school. Out of nowhere, she got up and disappeared. She came back with a book in her hand. It was pretty old looking and it smelled like mildew, so I knew it must be good.

To provide a little context here, my Mom was an English teacher until my brother was born, which is when she became a stay-at-home Mom. Once I hit high school, she opted for a change in career paths and now works in a fitness club as the training manager, which she loves because she gets to still keep educating and teach others. Now back to my story…

She cracked it open, and while she was flipping through the book, she explained that this was the textbook she used to teach poetry to her grade ten class back when she was teaching 25 years ago. Eventually she found the poem, and she read it to me.

The Examiner
by F.R. Scott, A poem written in the 1940’s in Canada concerning
the American schooling system

The routine trickery of the examination
Baffles these hot and discouraged youths.

Driven by they know not what external pressure,
They pour their hated self-analysis, through the nib of confession, onto the accusatory page.

I, who have plotted their immediate downfall,
I am entrusted with the divine categories: A, B, C, D, and the hell of F
The parade of prize and the back door of pass.
In the tight silence
Standing by green grass window
Watching the fertile earth graduate its sons
With more compassion — not commanding the shape
Of stem and stamen, bringing the trees to pass
By shift of sunlight and increase of rain,
For each seed, the whole soil, for the inner life
The environment receptive and contributory — 
I shudder at the narrow frames of our textbook schools
In which we plant our so various seedlings.
Each brick-walled barracks
Cut into numbered rooms, black boarded,
Ties the venturing chute to the master’s stick;
The screw-desk rows of lads and girls
Subdued in the shade of an adult —
Their acid sub-soil —
Shape the new to the old in the ashen garden.
Shall we open the whole skylight of thought
To these tip-toe minds, bring them our frontier worlds
And the boundless uplands of art for their field of growth?
Or shall we pass them the chosen poems with the footnotes,
Ring the bell on their thoughts, period their play,
Make laws for averages and plans for means,
Print one history book for a whole province, and
Let ninety thousand read page 10 by Tuesday?
As I gather the inadequate paper evidence, I hear
Across the neat campus lawn
The professional mower’s drone clipping the inch-high green.

This poem was taken from Impact (p. 29). Edited by William Eckersley and published by J.M. Dent & Sons (Canada) Ltd.

I think it is interesting that Scott was having the same feelings about exams and the standardization of schools seventy years ago when he wrote this poem. Makes you think.


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